Ambassador Kritenbrink’s Remarks at 25th Anniversary Event Hosted by the Vietnam Union of Friendship Organizations (VUFO)

Wednesday, October 7, 2020, 6:00-8:30 p.m.

Hello, friends! Good evening and welcome! I’m thrilled to be here with you all this evening as we celebrate the 25th anniversary of U.S.-Vietnam diplomatic relations. I would particularly like to thank my dear friend Ambassador Nguyen Phuong Nga and all of our partners at the Vietnam Union of Friendship Organizations (VUFO) for so graciously hosting tonight’s event and for inviting me to speak on this momentous occasion.

I also want to recognize Deputy Prime Minister Vu Duc Dam – Mr. Deputy Prime Minister, we are so honored to be with you here tonight, and we are deeply grateful for all that you have done for the U.S.-Vietnam partnership. I feel incredibly privileged to serve as the U.S. Ambassador to Vietnam during this very special year, which marks a major milestone in our ever-growing partnership.

As one of my Vietnamese friends often reminds me, the United States and Vietnam were destined to become friends. I truly believe that. We of course share a painful history and have had to overcome many challenges. While this year marks the 25th anniversary of our two nations becoming diplomatic partners, it is important to remember that it also marks the 75th anniversary of the Vietnam-USA Society (VUS), which was established on October 17, 1945. That event followed closely our cooperation during WWII between U.S. forces and the Viet Minh in Tuyen Quang province, and came just 45 days after President Ho Chi Minh declared in Ba Dinh Square the birth of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam, in which he quoted in part from the U.S. Declaration of Independence, stating that “All people are created equal; they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights; among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Reflecting this shared history, the United States was the first country with which President Ho Chi Minh decided to establish a friendship organization. This helped lay the groundwork for the vibrant partnership we now enjoy, 75 years later. Indeed, we have much to celebrate this year as our partnership and friendship continues to flourish.

To achieve all that we have in this past quarter century, we of course first had to face our tragic past: the legacies of war and their impact on our peoples. This was an absolutely critical step and one on which we have made incredible progress. In fact, it was our work on the humanitarian issue of accounting for missing American service members that first brought us back together and served as the “bridge to normalization.” Today, I am proud to state that our cooperation on humanitarian and legacy of war issues includes ongoing Vietnamese cooperation to account for U.S. missing personnel, as well as U.S. assistance to account for Vietnam’s own war dead; dioxin remediation, including at Bien Hoa Airbase; the clearing of unexploded ordnance, particularly in central Vietnam; and assistance to treat Vietnamese with disabilities of all causes in eight key provinces.

I believe that our work to deal responsibly with these issues of the past has allowed us to establish a foundation of trust and mutual respect, on which we have expanded dramatically our cooperation. While our relationship remains focused on the future and the benefits of collaboration for our two peoples, the United States remains committed to dealing with issues of the past and to promoting reconciliation.

In fact, speaking personally, some of the most meaningful events in which I have participated during my three years in Vietnam were related to reconciliation, such as my meetings with Vietnamese veterans, including my trip to Thanh Hoa province in June, where I had the privilege of walking hand-in-hand, as friends, with Vietnamese and American veterans across the Ham Rong bridge, the site of such fierce fighting 50 years ago. Or my deeply moving trips to the Truong Son Martyrs Cemetery and Hien Luong Bridge in Quang Tri province, as well as my visits to the Martyrs Cemetery in Ho Chi Minh City, and to the Binh An or Bieh Hoa Cemetery in Binh Duong province. I had the honor of conducting those trips in a spirit of reconciliation and mutual respect, so as to honor those who sacrificed in the name of patriotism, on all sides.

The work done by so many courageous people over the years in both countries is what has promoted reconciliation and built our partnership and friendship. We have now moved so far beyond those initial areas of cooperation.

But what we have achieved together wasn’t easy. It didn’t just happen. Some people have said that the success of the U.S.-Vietnam relationship over the past 25 years is a “miracle.” Nearly three years ago, I had a conversation in my home with the first Ambassador to Vietnam, the great Pete Peterson. I will never forget what Ambassador Peterson told me: he said that our shared progress is indeed remarkable, but it was not a miracle, and it was not an accident. Rather, our thriving partnership and friendship is the result of the courage, goodwill, and painstaking work of dedicated people in both countries, who believed fervently in the possibility of peace and reconciliation. It was those people – leaders and average people in both our great countries – who were firmly committed to the belief that both the United States and Vietnam could work together in learning from and putting aside the past, even as we honor it.

In other words, it is the people in this room who have brought about the astounding achievement that is the U.S.-Vietnam partnership today. I sincerely thank each and every one of you here tonight for what you have done to build the friendship we enjoy today.

In 1995, our two countries made a bold decision to chart a new course and to normalize diplomatic relations. The fruits of the tireless dedication that went into nurturing our partnership are apparent everywhere I look here in Vietnam today.

Perhaps most striking of all, given our past, is the fact that now, in 2020, our goal in the U.S. Mission is to support the development of a strong, prosperous, and independent Vietnam. In other words, it is in America’s national interest to see Vietnam succeed. Because the United States believes that we are more secure and prosperous, when we work together with successful, strong, and likeminded partners such as Vietnam to advance our shared interests so as to create the free and open region in which we all want to live.
Moreover, our partnership today is grounded in mutual respect, including respect for one another’s independence, sovereignty, territorial integrity, and respective political systems.

The breadth and depth of U.S.-Vietnam bilateral cooperation is simply stunning. We cooperate closely on everything from security and trade, education and war legacies, to energy and health, and many more.

Our rapidly growing trade relationship and the investment of American companies in Vietnam has intertwined the economic success of our great nations. The United States remains Vietnam’s largest export market globally, while Vietnam represents one of our fastest growing export markets worldwide. In 1995, our two countries had nearly zero trade and very limited people-to-people connections. Today, we share $77 billion in bilateral trade.

Our people-to-people ties have formed the bedrock of our increasingly vital partnership. In 1995, there were fewer than 800 Vietnamese studying at universities in the United States. Today, approximately 30,000 young Vietnamese are pursuing studies at all levels across the United States. In Southeast Asia, no country sends more students to the United States than Vietnam.

The world-class education that Vietnamese students receive at American institutions is bolstering Vietnam’s competitiveness and contributing immensely to Vietnam’s thriving economy. And we’re creating 30,000 new cultural Ambassadors for our relationship each year! I’m happy that the number of American students in Vietnam is growing as well. The people-to-people ties grown out of these experiences will, I am confident, guide our relationship for decades to come.

Similarly, it is wonderful to see the birth of Fulbright University Vietnam, a cutting-edge university supported by both the U.S. and Vietnamese Governments, which now has some of the most impressive Vietnamese students I have ever met, who I know will do great things for Vietnam, and for our partnership. And I am absolutely thrilled that in July of this year, our two governments signed the implementing agreement to bring U.S. Peace Corps Volunteers to Vietnam for the first time, to teach English.

Our cooperation on security challenges, from the South China (East) Sea to North Korea has been deeply impactful. You need look no further than Vietnam’s skilled hosting of the February 2019 Hanoi Summit between President Trump and DPRK Chairman Kim Jong Un to see how trusted a diplomatic partner Vietnam has become. Today, we continue to make significant investments in Vietnam’s defense capabilities, especially your maritime capacities, so as to advance our shared interest in the freedom of navigation and the peaceful resolution of disputes in accordance with international law. We even cooperate on peacekeeping as well.

The United States and Vietnam continue to stand with one another as we work to address a range of other challenges in the Mekong region, ASEAN, and the greater Indo-Pacific region – to include wildlife and drug trafficking, transnational crime, and pandemic disease.

We enthusiastically support Vietnam as it has assumed positions of global leadership this year, from joining the United Nations Security Council for a two-year non-permanent term to chairing ASEAN during a pivotal time in the organization’s history.

Obviously, 2020 has presented us all with profound challenges: a global pandemic that has taken the lives of so many around the world, upending livelihoods and impacting the global economy.

Despite these challenges, this is also a time of hope. For, in the face of this unprecedented pandemic, the United States and Vietnam have stood side-by-side in mutual support. In fact, U.S.-Vietnam health cooperation remains a bright spot in our relationship. The United States has contributed over $13 million, as well as a recent donation of 100 ventilators, to support Vietnam’s fight against COVID-19 and to contribute to its economic recovery. At the same time, I have been so moved as the Government of Vietnam, private Vietnamese citizens, businesses, and other organizations have donated millions of masks and protective equipment to help Americans in our fight against COVID-19. These donations have saved lives in the United States, and for that we will be eternally grateful.

From activities that started 30 years ago to assist people with disabilities to our current efforts to prevent and control COVID-19, our work together on health has improved the lives of countless Vietnamese citizens. Over the past two decades, the United States has invested more than $1.8 billion in total assistance for Vietnam, including more than $925 million for health.

These incredible achievements that I have outlined above would have been inconceivable 25 years ago. That we are standing here today celebrating a quarter century of our diplomatic relations is proof that we are not doomed to repeat the mistakes of the past. We have the ability to overcome resentment, distrust, and bitterness and replace them with trust, respect, and friendship. The United States and Vietnam have proven that former adversaries can become trusted partners. And as much as that achievement matters to us, it is also a profound lesson to the rest of the world.

Looking back at how much the United States and Vietnam have achieved together over the past 25 years, it is clear that this year our two nations have much to celebrate. Yet, I think it is important to recognize that our work is not over.

There are hills yet to climb, and complex issues to deal with to enable our partnership to reach its full potential. If the present is any indication of the future, however, we should be incredibly optimistic about what we can achieve together in the years ahead as our partnership continues only to strengthen.

We all have a responsibility to continue building the ties of trust and friendship that anchor this relationship.

So, let us redouble our efforts to ensure that our bilateral partnership remains strong and resilient, and continues to grow, for the next 25 years and beyond!

Again, I thank everyone here tonight for your invaluable contributions to building the friendship between our two great countries and peoples. I wish you all health, prosperity, and a very pleasant evening.

Thank you very much!